Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Tuesday, February 7, 2017


Page 1


Retired Ventura Judge Dies in Apparent-Murder Suicide


By a MetNews Staff Writer


Retired Ventura Superior Court Judge Herbert Curtis III shot and killed his girlfriend, and then himself, police said yesterday.

The Ventura County Star reported that Patricia Payne, 54, of Ventura died yesterday morning at a hospital. Police said officers responded to Payne’s residence after being called by a neighbor Sunday night who heard multiple gunshots.

A SWAT team was called to the scene. Officials said hostage negotiators attempted to defuse the situation and reached Curtis, learning that he may have shot a female.

Upon hearing additional gunshots, officers entered the residence, finding Payne alive but suffering from multiple gunshot wounds and finding Curtis dead from an apparently self-inflicted wound. Police said they evacuated the nearby area during the standoff, which lasted over three hours, and added that they had been called to the residence several times in the last two years due to apparent disturbances and alleged fraudulent credit card activity.

Don King’s Nephew

Curtis, the nephew of flamboyant boxing promoter Don King, grew up in Cleveland and received a track scholarship to Cleveland State University. He later attended Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, paying his way by teaching political science at a junior high school and working as a bookkeeper.

He left Cleveland in 1975 to accept a job as a Ventura County deputy district attorney.

He was a prosecutor for almost 10 years, then was appointed to the Ventura County Municipal Court bench in 1984 by then-Gov. George Deukmejian, becoming the first African-American trial judge in the county’s history.

He served as presiding judge in 1991 and was elevated to the Ventura Superior Court in 1998 by then-Gov. Pete Wilson. He presided over 18 murder trials and numerous molestation and elder abuse trials that he said in a 2013 interview troubled his sleep and drove up his blood pressure.

He retired from the bench in 2007.

Willie Brown Incident

Curtis received significant publicity in 1989 when the Los Angeles Times reported that then-Assembly Speaker Willie L. Brown Jr., D-San Francisco, had interceded with him on behalf of the daughter of Assemblymember Cathie Wright, R-Simi Valley.

Victoria Wright was facing the loss of her license and/or jail time after accumulating more than two dozen traffic citations in an eight-year period, the Times reported. Although of the opposite party, Brown had received important support from Wright on some matters, in particular when she helped block a move by the GOP leadership to align with dissident Democrats seeking to oust Brown from the speakership.

Ventura’s then-district attorney, Michael Bradbury, investigated for several months but found no basis for criminal charges. Bradbury, who as assistant district attorney years earlier had hired Curtis for the office, referred the case to the State Bar—Brown is an attorney—to investigate whether Brown had an unethical ex parte communication with the judge.

The State Bar later issued a brief statement, saying it found “no compelling evidence” that Brown—who said he did not represent Victoria Wright and had done nothing wrong—had violated the Rules of Professional Conduct.

Ventura Superior Court Assistant Presiding Judge Kent Kellegrew issued a statement yesterday, making no mention of the circumstances of Curtis’s death.

“The news of his passing is met with great sadness,” Kellegrew said. “Judge Curtis invested decades of service to the County of Ventura, initially as a criminal prosecutor and thereafter as a judge.”

The Star reported that Curtis had been married and divorced at least three times, and had two daughters, daughters, Rachel Skinner and Kimberly Curtis.


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